This summer I’ve made a special effort to keep our family schedule light, because I have learned the hard way that jam-packed days leave my kids grumpy and me drained. But even with our open calendar, I am finding myself over-doing things: clearing out our homeschool room, repainting the house, hosting play dates, helping a son cope with chronic migraines, and going to Radio Shack with yet another shopping list for robot parts. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but on Friday I noticed that I was much too tired and depleted.
This morning I appreciated this reminder from Tim Muldoon over at Ignatian Spirituality:
[O]ur care for other persons must not neglect the care of that one person whom we will know our entire lives: ourselves. For those who practice care for others, it can be easy to neglect the self. Parenting, I find, can elicit from me patterns of self-giving which are not really sustainable. Losing sleep, always seeking the good of the other, spending time on what the other needs instead of what I need—all these I tend to write off as so many types of sacrificial love that I can offer up to God.
Does that sound familiar? We simply cannot survive parenthood without the regular practice of self-care. We really have to look at it as part of a spiritual practice, because without caring for our bodies, minds, and spirits, we will be crippled in doing the work God has for us do.
The smaller our kids are, the harder it is to practice self-care, but it’s all the more important. How we recharge or refuel is a very personal matter. Writer Holly Pierlot takes regular “mother sabbaticals” during which she goes out alone for an afternoon to pray or just think. This is a great suggestion and parents should not feel guilty about needing time away from their kids to get their brains back in order. However, many of us lack the luxury to do this regularly or we just don’t want to leave our small babies for extended periods.
Even if we enjoy personal sabbaticals, we need to practice self-care more frequently than a day out can give us. Muldoon suggests “taking long naps, reading a challenging essay, physical exercise, foreign travel, walks in nature, conversation with friends, a glass of wine on a beautiful lanai, or climbing a mountain.” What strikes me about Muldoon’s suggestions is that I could do just about all these things with my family around me. (Except perhaps reading a challenging essay . . . )
Over the weekend, instead of painting baseboard, Philip and I took the kids hiking. The hike was absolutely beautiful, but also physically challenging.
I initially viewed this outing as “for my kids,” but I see in retrospect that I was also practicing self-care. Seeing a new place, experiencing nature’s strange silence, and feeling my muscles working hard to carry me forward renewed my spirit as I prepared for the week. I think I needed a change of scenery – literally. This week my head is less cob-webbed, praying is easier, and my imagination is percolating.
I’m thinking this afternoon about “mini-sabbaticals.” Instead of going off for a day alone every two weeks, why not carve out thirty minutes to an hour every day when we can be grown-ups doing grown-up stuff? This may take the cooperation of our spouse if we have very small children, but it’s worth considering. When my kids were all little I instituted an afternoon quiet hour during which everyone — babies, toddlers, older kids alike — remained in their beds. The older kids were required to stay in bed, too, but they could read or play with quiet toys. I explained that Mommy was having a quiet hour, too, that we all needed to let our minds and bodies rest so we could hear and play better for the rest of the day. During that time, I think I initially took a nap, but later I just made fresh coffee, prayed, and read in complete quiet. I think I really did hear and play better after that!
I’m not sure if I need the afternoon quiet hour again, but I’ll make an effort to pay attention to the signals that I need to shift course. Maybe I can forget the walls that need painting, say “not today” to the new robot shopping list, or look for a new hiking trail.